Tamar Gendler: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Politics and Economics

Tamar Gendler: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Politics and Economics

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My name is Tamar Gendler.  I’m professor
of philosophy and cognitive science and chair of the philosophy department at Yale University.
  So philosophy comes from the Greek term meaning
love of wisdom; philo, love; sophos, wisdom and every culture from time immemorial has
had a philosophical tradition.  There are philosophical traditions in western culture
that have their roots in ancient Greece.  There are philosophical traditions in eastern
culture, great Chinese and Indian philosophical traditions.  There are philosophical traditions
in Africa.  There are philosophical traditions in native cultures throughout the world. 
What philosophy does in every society of which it is a part is asks the question why, why
are things that way they are and should they be that way. 
The western philosophical tradition to which my comments today will be restricted can be
divided into two main segments.  On the one hand it has a descriptive component, which
asks about how things are and how we know that and on the other hand it has a normative
component, a component which asks about how things ought to be.  So into the first category
fall questions like what is the fundamental nature of reality, does God exist, do we have
free will. 
Those branches of philosophy are known as metaphysics, fundamental questions about what
there is, and epistemology, fundamental questions about how we know things. On the other side
of the divide are the questions that I’ve called normative  questions, questions about
values and that segment of philosophy has three main parts.  One of them, aesthetics
is concerned with the question what is beautiful and what makes it so. The second part of
that division of philosophy, moral philosophy asks the question what is morally right or
good and the third part of that division of philosophy, political philosophy asks the
question how should societies be structured in order to allow human flourishing and what
makes societal structures legitimate            Perhaps the most accessible and exciting part
of philosophy for people who have never encountered the discipline before is political philosophy,
which asks questions that we as citizens of a democracy need to ask ourselves in order
to be responsible participants in our joint governance, questions like what is the best
way for society to be structured in order to allow people to flourish, questions like
what is the appropriate division of rights and responsibilities in a society, questions
like how should the legitimate concerns of liberty on the one hand and equality on the
other be balanced and for those of you who are interested in studying a subject that
has practical import it may be worth realizing that political philosophy brought you the
world as you know it today.  Political philosophy brought the world Greek democracy.  It brought
us the Magna Carta.  It brought us the French Revolution and the American Revolution. 
It brought us communism.  It brought us the Civil Rights Movement.  It brought us feminism
and libertarianism.  It even brought us the Tea Party.  It was, as a result of thinking
about these sorts of questions that these movements came into being. So I want you to start by asking yourself
how you would answer these questions.  Should the State guarantee universal healthcare? 
Should there be an inheritance tax?  Should there be a draft army and should you be allowed
to sell your vote?  The three people we’ll meet in the lecture
are Thomas Hobbes who wrote a great book called Leviathan in 1651, John Rawls who wrote a
book called Theory of Justice in 1971 and Robert Nozick who wrote a book called Anarchy,
State and Utopia in 1974. It has been said that political philosophy asks two questions,
who should get what and who says so and you might think of the three authors that we’re
going to discuss as answering those questions in different ways. 
Thomas Hobbes is primarily concerned with the second question who says so, what makes
the State legitimate and John Rawls and Robert Nozick are in a conversation directly with
one another about the question who gets what. So Thomas Hobbes lived at the end of the 1500s
and beginning of the 1600s roughly at the time of Shakespeare and if you read Hobbes
work in the original you’ll notice that the language in which he wrote was somewhat
archaic, but the questions with which he is concerned in his great book Leviathan aren’t
questions that just apply to his time, they’re questions that concern us today as well. He
asks the question what would the world be like if there wasn’t a state and would that
situation be better or worse than the situation where there is some form of governance. 
In particular, Hobbes famously asks people to imagine what life would be like in what
he calls the state of nature, a situation in which there is no external
governing body and Hobbes points out that in the state of nature people are all roughly
equal in the following relevant way.  All of us, no matter how physically strong or
intellectually clever are at risk of having the work that we do disrupted by others, at
risk of having the property that we’ve acquired taken by others, at risk of having the things
that we see as important to our lives destroyed by others because all of us sleep and all
of us go away from things that are important to us. 
As a result says Hobbes, in the state of nature people need to expand a tremendous amount
of energy protecting their goods.  there is no opportunity in the state of nature to
do the sorts of things which human beings think makes life valuable, things like develop
relationships to individuals far from us, things like Hobbes mentions creating the skills
of navigation, writing poetry, making music or any of the things that you find valuable
in your life. All of those things Hobbes point out are possible only because you have
a kind of security and safety.

By contrast, life in the state of nature says Hobbes, is
solitary, poor, nasty, broodish and short.  The question is how can we get out of the
state of nature?  How can we get out of this situation of perpetual fear, for as Hobbes
point out active war isn’t what disrupts human activity.  The fear of war is sufficient
to disrupt human activity.  Think of the ways in which after 9/11 your anxiety about
your security was raised so that at every moment you were attentive to things around
you, hyper vigilant to what risks you might face. So Hobbes’ idea in arguing for the
legitimacy of government is to begin by asking what would it be like if there were no government
and to point out that that’s a state which all of us find undesirable.
There are says Hobbes, three things which motivate people to try to leave the state
of nature.  They are, to quote directly, “fear of death, desire of such things as
are necessary for commodious living and the hope by their industry to obtain them”.
  So the puzzle the Hobbes raises is how can
we get out of the state of nature and in subsequent years game theorists who work at the intersection
of what you might think of as philosophy and economics have developed a way of representing
the problem which Hobbes thinks we face in the state of nature. Life in the state of nature, according to
Hobbes, embodies what is sometimes called a prisoner’s dilemma. The prisoner’s
dilemma gets its name from a famous example .  A small town police officer has captured
two criminals and he wants to entice them to confess, so what he does is he creates
a structure of prison sentences where it’s advantageous for each of the prisoners to
confess regardless of what the other one does. We can illustrate a prisoner’s dilemma by
thinking about the situation of the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold
War.  Both sides would have preferred de-escalation in terms of armament.  Both sides would have
been happy to use the money that they were building missiles with to build schools and
highways and hospitals, but both sides also realized that if they engaged in unilateral
disarmament they would be at risk.  Let’s look at the structure that governed the choice
that those two countries faced. The United States couldn’t choose whether
the Soviet Union disarmed or not.  It could only choose whether it disarmed.  The Soviet
Union couldn’t choose whether the United States disarmed or not.  It could only choose
whether it disarmed.  For both countries their first choice was that the other country
disarmed while they kept their weapons.  Because of that what was
rational for both countries to do was to keep
their arms.  What that meant is that
the rational choice for both parties was to
keep their arms rather than ending up in their second choice situation, the situation where
I have money to spend on my schools and hospitals and Russia has money to spend on its schools
and hospitals both countries in order to be rational needed to spend resources on armament. 
This structure occurs over and over again in human transactions. So unless there is
some sort of enforcement mechanism in place we will end up like the US and the Soviet
Union during the arms race, with our third choice situation.

So the general problem
with which the prisoner’s dilemma confronts us is that if we behave in rational ways we
will always end up not cooperating and the puzzle that Hobbes’ confronts in his political
philosophy is the question how is it possible to bring human beings into their second choice
situation, where they cooperate with one another rather than competing.
It turns out that in lots of small local interactions human beings do manage to find a way out of
this scenario.  Famously, during the First World War when soldiers were engaged in trench
warfare the Germans and the Americans developed a kind of truce whereby soldiers from one
side could leave their trenches and get some fresh air without getting shot and then soldiers
from the other side would leave their trenches and get some fresh air without getting shot. 
The idea was that as long as the other side was behaving peacefully it was rational for
you to behave peacefully as well If you fail to cooperate or if it seems to
me that you have failed to cooperate I will retaliate by not cooperating.  Because of
the possibility that informal modes of cooperation can breakdown Hobbes insisted that in order
to get out of the state of nature we need not only informal arrangements with one another,
but a body that regulates human interactions.  Hobbes concludes that it’s in our rational
self interest to submit our will to a sovereign whom he calls the Leviathan and thereby to
get ourselves out of the state of nature. Let’s fast forward 300 years. A half century
later philosopher John Locke writes another book about social contract theory and 50 or
so years after that the philosopher John Jacques Rousseau writes a similar work, each of them
refining Hobbes’ notion of the social contract.  Together these three pictures of what makes
a state legitimate allow the thinkers who lie at the heart of the American and French
Revolutions to articulate a picture of human rights that makes those revolutions legitimate. 
From the French and American Revolutions which give voice to the citizens we move through
the 18th century to the emancipation of the serfs in Russia and a general democratization
of society, a recognition that individual’s votes should not be dependent upon them being
landholders, but should rather be open to people of all social classes. 
Extending this idea Karl Marx writes the Communist Manifesto and an entire enormous nation, Russia
in 1917 reshapes the fundamental structure of its society in response to a work of political
philosophy.  At the same time the tradition which gave rise to the revolutions in the
18th century, one that says all human beings have the right to have their voices heard,
gives rise on the one hand to the women’s voting movement in England and America and
then to the Civil Rights movement on United States’ soil expanding and expanding out
of Hobbes’ fundamental idea that a government to be legitimate, must be in response to the
needs of its people.  We get during this 300 year period an incredible opening up of
political rights of a sort unknown in the history of civilization.
Political philosopher John Rawls was born in the early 20th century in the American
south.  He was of a generation where he and all his friends went off to serve in the Second
World War and returned from that war concerned with how it’s possible to create a stable
and just society.  Rawls spent most of his academic career thinking about that question
as a professor of philosophy at Harvard University and when he was in his early 50s in the middle
of the 1960s and early 1970s as the Vietnam War was raging, as social protests were going
on around him, as American society was reshaping itself in ways that voice was given to the
needs of the disenfranchised, Rawls tried to articulate in the great social contract
tradition a picture of what a just society looks like and how a just society should be
structured. It’s in this time that John Rawls sets out
to write his work, The Theory of Justice. It’s worth listening to the extraordinary opening
words of Rawls’ book.  He says, “Justice is the first virtue of social institutions
as truth is of systems of thought.”   Rawls’ fundamental assumption in articulating
what a just society looks like is that each person possesses a certain inviolability which
cannot be overridden even if doing so would be of greater benefit to the society as a
whole.  In so doing he challenges what had become a dominant picture of what justice
and morality demand.  That picture can be traced to the 19th century works of the British
philosophers Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill and is known and utilitarianism.  It’s
an incredibly appealing view.  What the view says is that an act is morally
right if it produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people.  If I face
a choice between saving one person and saving five where I can save only one group or the
other, utilitarianism gives what many people find to be the intuitive answer that I should
save the five, thereby bringing about more happiness rather than the one. 
The problem with utilitarianism that Rawls is concerned with is that it seems that in
farfetched and typical circumstances utilitarianism could demand that we violate the rights of
the one to help the many.  A famous counter example to utilitarianism is that a healthy
man walks into a hospital where there are five dying individuals, one in need of a heart,
one in need of a kidney, one in need of a liver and two others each in need of parts
that he has.  The utilitarian rubric would seem to suggest that if those five can be
saved by harming him that that’s what morality demands. This picture that each of us has
inviolable rights and that those rights can’t be overridden by the needs of others is part
of what is new and exciting in Rawls’ discussion. Taking as his premise the idea that justice
is the first virtue of social institutions that is that no unjust society is a legitimate
one Rawls asks the following question.  How should the benefits and burdens of living
together in a community be distributed so as to best realize what justice requires? 
In particular, he asks what should the fundamental institutional structures look like to allow
a society to be a just society.  Rawls sees himself as the inheritor of the
social contract tradition of which Hobbes was the initial voice in the western tradition. 
Like Hobbes, Rawls asks what would people choose to have their society look like if
they were building it from the ground up.  Rawls says a just society is one that rational,
free and equal people would choose to contract into, but we enter our interactions with one
another will all sorts of inequalities in place.  Some of us are wealthy.  Some of
us are poor.  Some of us are endowed with certain kinds of intellectual or physical
skills that others lack. If we try to build our society taking into consideration those
facts about ourselves we aren’t doing it from a position of equality, so Rawls’ insight
is that sometimes the fairest way to make a decision is to put yourself in a position
where you have less information. Think about what the fairest way to divide
a cake is.  The fairest way to divide a cake is to ask you to divide it not knowing which
piece you’re going to get.  If you divide the cake unaware of which part will be yours
you will be inclined to divide it in a fair way. This is the veil of ignorance
Let’s go behind the veil of ignorance and ask a question that Rawls asks, namely, which
of the two principles that he has derived ought to take priority over the other?  Do
we care more about fundamental rights or do we care about the distribution of income? 
So suppose you’re faced with a choice of three societies in which you can live not
knowing what role you will play in the society.  In society number one the average income is
$100,000, but only 85% of the people have fundamental rights, only 85% of the people
have the right to vote, liberty of conscience, the right to a fair trial.  In the second
society the average salary—in the second society the average salary is $70,000 and
only 85% of people have fundamental rights.  In the third society the average salary is
$70,000, but 100% of people have the right to vote, freedom of expression, the right
to a fair trial.  Which society would you choose to live in, average income of %100,000,
85% free, average income of $70,000, 85 % free or average income $70,000, 100% free?  When
confronted with this choice set anybody who is paying attention rejects the second option. 
It has all of the disadvantages of the first and all of the disadvantages of the third,
but it’s also true that when confronted with this choice almost everybody rejects
the first option as well.  If you don’t know whether you’re going to be one of the
ones with freedom then even though you’re guaranteed to have a higher income in the
first society than the third more than 95% of people choose to live in the third society.
This idea that when you don’t know where you’re going to end up you have an inclination
to be risk adverse is what lies behind Rawls’ conclusions about what would be chosen from
behind the veil of ignorance. People want to make sure that the bottom is
safe before they worry about what the top looks like, so Rawls suggests that to the
extent there are inequalities in a society they should satisfy two conditions.
So the first condition is that the benefits of those inequalities be accessible to all
and the second and perhaps most controversial part of Rawls’ theory is that to the extent
that there are inequalities in a society they should be distributed in such a way that they
are to the benefit of the least well off, so if it turns out that having a lower tax
rate in the highest bracket produces wealth and income in a way that leads those in the
poorest quintile to benefit Rawls says that’s okay, but if it turns out that that’s advantageous
only to those in the highest segment of society that inequality, says Rawls wouldn’t be
countenanced from behind the veil of ignorance.  It isn’t a way that people would choose
for a society to be structured if their fundamental concern was with justice.
In 2005 two psychologists inspired by the work of John Rawls decided to survey several
thousand randomly selected Americans about what they thought the distribution of income
would look like in a society of which they would want to be a part and they presented
those citizens with two different pie graphs. In the one, which you can see on the top the
vast majority of wealth was held by the top quintile of society and a small amount by
the second quintile with virtually none held by the remainder of the society. In the other
the distribution was more equal.  Roughly a third of the wealth was held by the top
quintile and the remainder was distributed among the remaining four.  Given the choice
between those two social structures 92% of Americans chose the bottom.  As a matter
of fact the top graph, which only 8% of subjects chose represents the actual distribution of
wealth in contemporary America, whereas the bottom graph represents the actual distribution
of wealth in contemporary Sweden.                       The distribution of wealth where no more than
60% of the wealth is held by the top fifth and where at least some of the wealth is held
by the bottom two-fifths seems to be an ideal for all Americans, not just for those who
would benefit thereby. Rich people and poor people give the same
answer from behind the veil of ignorance.  Men and women give the same answer from behind
the veil of ignorance.  Religious and nonreligious people give the same answer from behind the
veil of ignorance and perhaps most strikingly democrats and republicans give roughly the
same answer from behind the veil of ignorance. As a matter of fact, 85% of the nation’s
wealth is held by the top quintile, roughly 10% by the second, roughly 5% by the middle
and virtually none of the nation’s wealth by 40% of the country.
Does that mean our society is fundamentally unjust?  John Rawls would give the answer
yes.  By contrast Robert Nozick would give the answer no. because the structure of society
in which we find ourselves is one that has arisen as the result of voluntary interactions,
of human beings engaged in legitimate transactions whatever distribution results, says Nozick,
is a just one.  While John Rawls was writing Theory of Justice
as a distinguished philosopher in his mid 50s having fought in the Second World War
and then taught philosophy for many decades thereafter.  Down the hall from him was a
precocious young man in his late 20s who had recently started teaching at Harvard.  That
young man by the name of Robert Nozick took upon himself the task of writing a rebuttal
to Rawls’ Theory of Justice. And three years after Theory of Justice was published Nozick
published his retort, Anarchy, State and Utopia. Nozick was concerned that Rawls had placed
the wrong fundamental notion at the center of his theory.
Nozick writes:  “Individuals have rights and there are things that no person or group
may do to them without violating those rights.  The minimal state limited to narrow functions
of protection against force, theft and fraud, enforcement of contracts and so on is the
most extensive state that can be justified.”  Like Rawls, Nozick is challenging the utilitarian
picture.  Like Rawls, Nozick thinks the goods of one person can’t be traded off the goods
of the community, but unlike Rawls Nozick places at the center of his political philosophy
not the notion of equality or justice, but rather the notion of liberty.
Let’s look at what a society governed by Nozick’s principles might look like.  Nozick
famously articulates a view of the conditions under which property is legitimately held
and his view is this.  It’s legitimate for you to own something if you acquired it
in a legitimate way when it was un-owned or if you acquired it in a legitimate way from
somebody else who already owned it.  If I got the property from you as the result of
your having given it to me then no one can legitimately take that property away from
me.  This may sound relatively uncontroversial, but let’s look and see what it implies. 
Suppose each of us starts out with the same amount of money.  Say each of us has $100
and there are thousands and thousands of us all of whom are fans of the great 1970s basketball
star Wilt Chamberlain, so suppose you give 25 cents of your money to Wilt Chamberlain
and I give 25 cents of my money to Wilt Chamberlain and our friend gives 25 cents of his money
to Wilt Chamberlain and so on thousands and thousands of times until Wilt Chamberlain
comes to have not the $100 with which each of us started out, but thousands and thousands
and thousands of dollars.  On Nozick’s picture any decision to take away any of the
money which Wilt Chamberlain got through this voluntary and legitimate transaction is a
violation of rights. Then no distribution of income, including one in which 1% of the
people own 99% of the wealth could ever be illegitimate because what matters is how it
actually came into being.  If all that 99% of the wealth came to those individuals as
the result of legal transactions then nothing can be done without violating rights to redistribute
it. There is no easy answer to this question. 
There is a strong intuitive pull to the view that Nozick advocates—it is in some sense
theft to take from Wilt Chamberlain what each of us has voluntarily given to him.  On the
other hand without such theft, more commonly known by the term taxation, we will find ourselves
perhaps in the sort of situation that neither Rawls nor Nozick wants to be in.
If all of us give our quarters to Wilt Chamberlain and his companions.
Instead of having a society of which we’re all equally a part Wilt and his wealthy friends
are able to buy access to the media, are able to buy advertising time for candidates that
they support, are able to send their children to schools where they gain power and advantage
and access to resources with the result that the fundamental rights which Nozick as well
as Rawls was concerned with preserving become difficult for people to exercise.  
The Wilt Chamberlain example illustrates a general phenomenon which we face in a society,
one which was foreshadowed in our discussion of prisoner’s dilemma.  Individual decisions
that are acceptable may be problematic if large numbers of people make those decisions. 
The problem that this gives rise to is sometimes called the Tragedy of the Commons,
so suppose there is a green area where I let my cow graze and you let your cow graze and
our neighbor lets his cow graze.  So far no problem, for each of our cows there is
enough to eat, but suppose that each of us instead of having one cow has 50.  If you
alone had 50 cows there would be no problem.  If I alone had 50 cows there would be no problem,
but if hundreds of us have 50 cows the entire green space will disappear and all of our
cows will die.  This structure manifests itself in situation after situation.  Over
fishing results from each of us taking what would be a fine amount of fish if were the
only ones doing it, but an amount that becomes problematic if others are doing likewise. 
Each of us polluting a small amount causes no problem.  All of us polluting together
can lead to drastic consequences. Let’s return to our four opening questions
and ask what Rawls and Nozick would say about them. —with respect to the question of whether
societies should guarantee universal healthcare Rawls would say yes and Nozick would say no. 
On Rawls’ picture health is a precondition for participation in a civic society and from
behind the veil of ignorance clearly everyone would choose a society in which they had the
guarantee of safety on Rawls’ picture.  By contrast, on Nozick’s this provision
would be possible only as the result of illegitimate interference in people’s lives. 
With respect to the question of whether an inheritance tax is legitimate Rawls would
say yes, Nozick no.  Rawls says each of us has the right to be born into a roughly equal
community and those who inherit large amounts at the moment of birth are disadvantaged in
ways which presumably is not to the benefit of the least well off.  Nozick by contrast
wonders where Rawls gets the idea that it’s anybody’s business to tell me whether I
can give my money to my children. With respect to the third question should
the army be constituted by draft or by volunteers Rawls would, at least in conditions of wartime,
advocate a draft army.—just as the benefits and rights of a society that are fundamental
need to be distributed equally across all so to on a Rawls’ picture must the burdens. 
The only fair way to distribute those sorts of responsibilities is as the result of a
random process.  Nozick by contrast would be happy with a volunteer army.  Individuals
have the right to contract into risk and the fact that most of the individuals who contract
into risky situations are those for whom there are not so many options isn’t something
that would bother Nozick, though of course under both circumstances there are many who
would choose to serve their society—simply out of a desire to protect it.
Finally, with respect to the question should it be legitimate to sell your vote Rawls gives
the answer no.  That is a right that he considers unalienable, unalienable because from behind
a veil of ignorance we saw that no one would choose to live in a society where such rights
weren’t distributed equally.  Nozick by contrast thinks that this, like everything
else should be something which is your discretion to choose and if you decide that one of the
best ways for you to finance something that you care about is by selling your vote to
another person what business is it of anybody else to tell you that you can’t. 
You, I imagine, have your own answers to those four questions.  Perhaps they line up completely
with one or the other of the authors that we’ve discussed, but what you now have in
addition to your answers to those questions are some tools for thinking about why you
give those answers. When I graduated from college I spent a couple
of years doing education policy work and then decided to go back to graduate school to study
philosophy.  In 1990 I was lucky enough to enroll as a graduate student at Harvard University
where two of my teachers were the political philosopher John Rawls and a man who ended
up being my dissertation director Robert Nozick.  It’s from the two of them that I learned
what I know about political philosophy. What political philosophy and philosophy in
general encourages you to do is to step outside the specificity of your own situation.  Hobbes
and Rawls and Nozick all recognized that each of us wants more rather than less of a share
of the goods of our society, but what they ask you to do is to think about how the fact
that you want more rather than less suggests that everyone else probably does too.
Philosophy has always been connected to the works that are going on in other fields at
its time.  In ancient Greece the philosopher Aristotle was not only doing work in metaphysics
and epistemology.  He was collecting constitutions from various other Greek city states to provide
the first catalog of political systems.  He was doing biological experiments and thinking
about the nature of physics.  In the early modern period philosophers like Rene Descartes
or Thomas Hobbes were major contributors not just to the philosophical work of their time,
but also to the scientific work.  Descartes invented coordinate geometry, which we still
know by the name Cartesian geometry and Hobbes did work not just in the domain of political
philosophy, but also work in the sciences.  This has been true throughout philosophy’s
history that it’s great thinkers think not only about questions central to the discipline,
but also about how those questions relate to the fields around them, so philosophers
of mind right now contribute to debates about the nature of consciousness thinking both
about what it is for people to be conscious and making use of the resources of a 500 year-old
tradition of thinking about the relation between mind and body.
People who major in philosophy have gone on to do a huge range of things. They go to
law school.  They go to business school.  They go to medical school.  Some of them 
go onto be philosophers in a professional sense, but what philosophers typically go
onto do is to be thoughtful, reflective participants in whatever they end up doing whether that
be working in real estate or working as a nurse or being a fulltime parent or being
mayor of their town.  The most profound questions of the world are
the ones which philosophy gives you permission to ask and to learn how to answer and it’s
for that reason that the study of philosophy can be an enormously illuminating and valuable
part of anyone’s life.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.


  1. I see injustice in states ignoring the common UNO rules and doing bad things but without any penalties. And individuals exploiting the society by using their overwealth and political influence.

    Personal goods gathered in a legal way are certainly intouchable and should be protected. But who defines what is legal and what is not. In the today's political system controlled by monopoly powers over the two parties using campaign dollars I don't know if we are living in justice.

  2. This is one of the best lectures I've ever heard. But I guess that's what you get from a Yale department chair.

  3. The philosophical debate over the just distribution of wealth was best addressed, I suggest, by those who embraced the principles of the French Physiocrats, Turgot, Quesnay and du Pont de Nemeurs. What they argued was that the most fundamental right of all persons is our equal birthright to the earth. They concluded that the system of law that extended property rights to nature to individuals or private entities violated this human right. The historical conversion of nature as a commons into private enclaves created a rentier elite (i.e., an elite empowered by law and protected by the state to claim a portion of what others produced). This amounts to an initial redistribution of wealth by force, fraud and theft.

    The Physiocrats were ignored, of course, by the landed interests who controlled societies. Their writings influenced Adam Smith, who was also ignored. And, Benjamin Franklin declared his adherence to physiocratie, and was also ignored. Thomas Paine's great essay 'Agrarian Justrice'  echoes the physiocratic call for the landed to compensate society for their privileged control over land by the payment of a "ground rent" therefor.

    Sadly, modern political and moral philosophers largely ignore the land question. The last serious effort to raise public conscience on the matter came from Henry George in the late 19th century. George, in the end, was unsuccessful. His social movement  dwindled to just a few thousand adherents, but among them were some rather thoughtful individuals, including Winston Churchill, Sun Yat-sen, Leo Tolstoy, Louis F. Brandeis and philosophers John Dewey and Robert V. Andelson.  

  4. She gives Rawls way too much credit.  He didn't come up with this idea that people have rights anyone who's read the Declaration of Independence can tell you that.  More to the point, Rawls was really responding to the ideas of Objectivism (only the individual matters) and Subjectivism (only society matters) which are the two extremes and they argue by pointing out the flaws in the other.  Rawls was trying to come up with a criterion on when we can be subjective and when we can be objective.  The lecturer seems to side step this.

  5. A mental device to enable individuals to formulate a standard of justice while not knowing  their place in or value to their society. Veil of ignorance.
    Implement this into the corporate world, Senate and Congress. Make clear that corporate sized 'religions'
    implement this device, as well or pay discriminatory taxes.
    John Rawls had it right, as did Ben Franklin and Thomas Paine.

  6. My goodness! I was blown away with this enriching lecture! Learning philosophy in just a short time I am changed. My your Name forever be in our hearts! . I will definitely go a little deeper into the subject!

  7. 25:19 – a higher income average income doesn't mean I will be guaranteed to make more there. Median and average are completely different things.

    Just because the average is higher doesn't mean I will have a higher income.

  8. Does anybody know the names of the authors (or article itself) that's mentioned at 27m11 – 2005 psychology survey on distribution of wealth? 

  9. People have gone from BS to BS. We take lies as truth and truth as lies. Some people take everything as lies, because there are so many lies… The truth is buried under the heap.

    If you're a serious truth seeker and want to know the TRUTH OF LIFE, go to TruthContest◙Com and open "The Present". This book could turn our world around.

  10. Hobbes basically makes one giant 'argument from ignorance', as well as a 'false dichotomy'. I understand he was a stepping stone of progression in political philosophy, but we should be rejecting his conclusions. Yet too many still think his conclusions are valid in this day and age.

  11. Why is it, that people always critize utilitarianism in a myopic way. I don't see utilitarians advocating for doctors to snatch patients and cutting them open, yet that seems to be the "go to" move when criticizing utilitarianism, regardless if it's a strawman or not…

  12. thank u so much madam for help me understand these philosopher as continues with my study in political and economic philosophy. 

  13. I think "Should people be allowed to sell their vote" is not a legit question. If they plan to vote for person who pays them to do so, who can possibly stop them?
    If the question is "Should people be allowed to sell their right to vote", then answer is obviously "no", just like with all other rights. – Because letting people abandon their rights would produce chaos that hurts everybody.

  14. Good lecture but there are two serious problems with it.

    Dr. Gendler's explanation of the tragedy of the commons is simply not accurate.  More often than not It is when the commons are privatized that they are destroyed not the other way around.  Communities have proven to be the best organizers and optimizers of common resources while private interests tend to destroy them for short term gain. 

    Also her use of the prisoners dilemma is at best outdated and at worst disingenuous.  The dominant strategy in the dilemma changes when you know that you will have future interactions with the other party or agents associated with the other party.  Even for an introduction and even in light of the need for simplification this is a glaring omission.  Why keep teaching the model which has the narrowest theoretical and practical value?

  15. does someone else see a problem with the pie charts? the second pie chart is impossible. If the number of persons in 3rd & 4th penile are the same (they are each 20% of population after all), how can the poorer group have 21% of wealth and the wealthier group only 15%?

  16. Major fail because she did not have charts explaining the current situation
    which is the philosophy of "Buy Sell Produce Zero" and how the 1% control how much standing surplus labor there is, what if any crumbs are thrown at them and to keep labor supply at 1 job to 10000 people which will very soon turn into even worse odds as machines/robot replacements accelerate, what then ? how will continually flooding America with illegal/legal foreigners help keep this bs economy going ? whats the plan
    please explain

  17. the notion of legitimate ownership depends on the definition of legislation. If rich/corupt people are the ones who make the laws, they will have built in loopholes for them to "legitimately" aquire money by largely unethical means. Laws are man made things that don't really matter as they are built by the ruling class in a society.

  18. The way this woman talks reminds me of a girl presenting a school project in front of the class with very few knowledge of the language she is speaking… 

  19. It is amazing how much of a simplistic outlook can a professor of Yale have, saying that a series of political works have all been generated from one work. I am not saying that a work as such cannot generate a sphere of influence but all kinds of works must be placed in their historical time and understood as a symptom of that time and not the other way around. Marx ended, with his critique on Hegel's notion on the way that history develops, this metaphysical way of thinking. Of course the subject can have a vast course of action but not one person can have this kind of influence without the right fructuous conditions to support the prementioned influence. There must be a carefull, dialectic consideration of all the material, cultural and political aspects of the trains of philosophical thought. And some still believe that the liberation of man will only come in a communist society,not the way it was depicted in the Soviet Union. State only exists to restrain people not because of some necessity that depends on human nature but because it follows certain interests,favoring specific social groups. Political philosophy does not simply evolve as a sphere separate in its autonomy, it is developped by people and realized by them. The  attribution of those externalisations of thought merely to those who outspoke them first as much as we know is a bourgeois conception which overviews history as a  evolutional process based on the accumulation of unique events. Both Rawls and Nozick speak about capitalism as if its characteristic are to be unchanged in any other societal form. As long as the economy is characterized by the production of commodities these problems will keep coming up without ever being able to be solved except if the structure of this system changes.

  20. Very interesting. I'm about to take a class in it. Great for an overview. I guess philosophy is mainly questions that people are sometimes afraid to ask or think about.

  21. i do love philosophy.but for most of the people its annoying word.the comes from misunderstanding .Thank you very much Ph Tamer Gendler

  22. For the most part, this video is very good and informative. But Gendler's treatment of Nozick seems unfair. She shows the actual distribution of America's income and says Nozick would say this isn't unjust because Nozick holds liberty as his fundamental value. But this doesn't account for how the American wealthy got so wealthy. What if their wealth was facilitated by government actions (bailouts) and policies (tax loopholes) which benefit the wealthy and trample on liberty? Would Nozick be okay with that? Absolutely not. But then again, I'm not the one who had Nozick as a dissertation advisor…

  23. very informative, thank you so much. About the subject of politics I wonder why Nozic insists on going back to nature. Seems kind of reactionary indeed and it´s quite ashtonishing that the value of organization isn´t more respected still all these centuries after Hobbes.
    About the subjects of philosophy, just zen

  24. I'd really like to watch this video, but hell, I can't stand this woman. Her expressions, her look, her demeanor and even her voice just make my head melt.

  25. I thought this was a very good course/lecture and well organized. I would recommend watching it a few times. Thank you Tamar!
    My question is, how does Rawls derive the elements of a just society without defining what is Justice?

  26. Nice to see social libertarian argumentation reduced to a caricature that basically says, "Cave men had freedom, and that was no fun, right?"

  27. Wow I would have loved to hear them talk about Ayn Rand. I'm not clear on how not redistributing is like cows eating all the grass.

  28. For both sides it's about "It's 1st choice, it's 2nd choice, it's 3rd choice, it's 4th choice". All based on the subject of self interest of those making the decision. Nothing to do with what's best for the country, or it's people or the environment, or even the economy. You've just admitted that both countries could have spent their money on their own schools and hospitals. That would be advantageous for both countries and for the people and the economy and, by extension, the environment. But, as you yourself pointed out, they had already spend so much money on these weapons. So their first choice was to keep weapons out of invested self interest and nothing more. Had both sides sat down and objectively discussed the facts of the situation and the potential greater good for everyone and not just themselves, then they could have both disarmed and continued to look after their people. as an elected government is elected to do so (Yes both sides had elected leaders).

    So, if anything, this video outlines the nonsensical attitude, mentality and rhetoric of the global leaders in a system dominated by invested self interest. Had we had a system of factual based governess and global cooperation, then the mistakes of history would cease to repeat themselves because you have changed the structure of governance and not just renamed it. As philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau pointed out, when observing the transition from feudalism to capitalism, (and i'm paraphrasing here) "The community wealth has simply be passed from kings to these 'economic revolutionaries' and, with it, the power over the people is now in the hands of men unappointed by god (It was believed that monarchies were appointed by god) and unelected by its country."

    In conclusion, i see this video as outlining perfectly, the tricks of right wing, self interested agendas through intellectual manipulation. As mentioned in a previous comment, there is an animation which simply reduces down to "Cave men had freedom. And that was no fun right?" Essentially giving justification to the necessity of control over masses of people without any true tangible evidence or reason. As all political sides are, control and governance is simply based on opinion. Hence, we must progress to a society based on factual objectiveness, in order to live 'true' lives and free ourselves to our nature without trying to escape it. We have been trying to detach from our nature for thousands of years and look at the state of global society, the state of poverty, the state of the environment right now. We must learn to live within our nature if we are to survive in nature, because, no matter how hard you try, there is no escaping the natural world that made us.

  29. The american revolution had nothing to do with the voice of citizens. Even Benjamin Franklin wrote how the revolution was rooted in an economic conflict between the US and the UK. The US wanted economic independence from the Bank of England and not pay taxes to it. This video has lost my interested because the lecture seems to be vastly ill or under-informed in the surrounding works and facts in multiple places. Even the presumption that Germany wouldn't comply before the US is totally politically biased. Either side is equally capable of non compliance. An example being the over 60 illegal wars waged by the US after WW2 that go against the UN treaty. We must remain objective if we are to maintain intellectual rigour.

  30. 8:34 after September 11th the " Government" went to an extraordinary lengths to control public opinion regarding " safety and security " to the point where it became disgustingly evident that the government cannot provide security and safety

  31. This lecture is surprisingly superficial. It takes on big questions and treats them abstractly in the sense that the questions are not shown to be rooted in the experiences of the questioners. I tend to agree with most of the negative comments. How did she get tenure? If this is philosophy, I am not sure anymore that it is for everyone.

  32. We can`t get out of the state of Nature, we`re only humans..fireflies – no less, no more..
    Ps. do some philosophers talk like sellers..do? 😉

  33. It comes in one ear and out the other. I think the lecture was meaningful but just material I would be unconcerned about. In an age of information and overload its a subject range to pass on.

  34. Very interesting how Liberty is opposed to true Justice, yet justice to the individual is supporting of Liberty. Subjective vs Objective.

  35. Hell is not Justice it is but Vengeance – an eye for an eye – shows how poor religious ideas are. Some guy harmed us, so he is going to be harmed in Hell? How does that help us? If he killed our loved ones, will that bring our loved ones back?
    And religion here is also disingenuous – it tells the victims that those that hurt them will be punished by God but then turns to the criminals and tells them that all they have to do is repent – they don't have to repair – make good to the victim, if they looted the victim, they must not only apologize to the victim but must also pay him back
    But that is not what religion teaches – just cry some croc tears before God, apologize to God and you get to enjoy heaven? God helps cheat the victim?
    Shows how morally bankrupt religions are
    But no one, not one person calls them out – it is just incredible, how religions are able to brainwash even the best of them into silence

  36. I have this question I didn't understand about Nozick & liberalism.
    Nozick believes that taxation is theft. He also believes that the state should be minimilized to police forces, army, courts etc. But to sustain these forces a state is obligated to tax its citizens. Isn't this a paradox? Seems to be that by libertarian standards, the only way for a society to be just is to return to the state of nature.

  37. I am naturally attracted to Rawls and turned off by Nozik. Rawls seems to have a more civilized, inclusive approach, whereas Nozik's system seems to guarantee a more brutal society where "the 1%" will scoop up everything, leading to gross inequality, civil unrest and Donald Trump. Rawls would have voted Bernie, I guess. Stepping over homeless people to get to my Bentley is not how i would like to enjoy my wealth.

  38. Great job, love her iTunes U contribution as well. I never got something about Nozick's idea. He says something along the lines of "if property is obtained legitimately…" But Almost no property was originally acquired that way. America was stolen from natives, sweat shops make our clothes, slave labor built the white house, etc. I wonder what Nozick would say to this?

  39. Democracy isn't the best and most productive to everyone social structure, but most balanced one.
    It is based on average opinion which derived from many different opinions including really bad and really good ones.
    Therefore Democracy could not offer the best possible way for a society to develop.
    Therefore Democracy is "flawed" in a way. What do you think?

  40. The distribution of wealth on the second distribution would change the order of the quin-tiles, yes? That seems as undesirable as the first distribution. False Choice?

  41. Nozick is ridiculous, his so called philosophy is just apseudo intellectual justification designed to appease the conscience of the rich and powerful ( if they have one.) The rich want to benefit from Society having laws in place to protect their property guarded by police and the army have subsidized roads to drive their fancy cars on but don't wish to pay for any of it because than that would "theft". The rich have no problem with the draft just so long as their kids never have to go. Just look at chicken hawks like Trump, Bush Junior and the rest of their chums, no War for them.

  42. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.

  43. The most important aspect of human society is science and objective relativistic truth. With out those two things we are living in a chaotic world of hypocrisy, especially in the form of religion and government. Humans need to quit with the anthropocentric and ego driven ideals hidden under the idea that we are divine and the earth was made for us. Maybe then we will finally focus on building a sustainable future for the planet, instead of being so parasitic and destructive to it. Maybe we could start working with nature, instead of trying to conquer it. Maybe we could turn the American dream into a sustainable one, based on science, nature and truth. Instead of an ego driven economic free for all, where your dreams are sold to you through propaganda and politicians.

  44. Nozick completely misses the mark regarding property. The free accumulation of property regardless of the consequences to others cannot hold legitimacy. Through ownership of property you can acquire wealth, and by wealth more property. And ultimately if wealth and property accumulates you will end up with a king who owns virtually everything. So property right must be invalid, or at least the free accumulation of property. Property must be evenly divided as the principles of Rousseau and Rawls suggests.

  45. O loved this! Does take provide any on line philosophy degrees? Are their political philosophy degrees available in the tri state area?

  46. Mediocre lecture that would feel at home on government sponsored presentations in Venezuela, North Korea, Russia or China.

  47. Taking one life to save millions take away the concept of safety in a society and that worth billions…Problem solve… slow claps to your argument

  48. 25:05 You must get knowledge to take the third choice. a society based on monopoly does not count the portions that is distributed either but only the portions that's inputting and cuts on the portion that outputting.
    I live in the 3e society and 50% of the pay is going back to social services with low crimes rates.

  49. 33:52 money is not liberty. Money does not have your name on the bill. Money is belong to your government. Nozick believe that money give you power when and philosophy is the money that own your ideas and the same money limit your power. This though is a lights through capitalist Utopian serves to collectivities which will never have enough money because power does not want to offer itself to collectivity. In this path of view UDS army and NASA dont have the right to exist…
    37:00 Yeah its call: knowing its limit and adapt to his upgrading knowledge.

  50. To be clear, the United States of America is not a democracy. It has democratic elements, but it is a constitutional republic. Worlds of difference.

  51. Want to win a debate? Frame the question. If you determine what is being debated and in what terms and context that thing can be debated in, and you've framed the question in a calculated way, you've "won" the debate before it's begun. Keep that in mind as she explores these two questions she frames. Think about what she presupposes when she poses these questions:
    "What is the appropriate division of rights and responsibilities?"
    "How should the legitimate concerns of liberty and equality be balanced?"

    I think one of the most obvious observations one could make by hearing these two sentences is that she has already implicitly accepted the assumption that both liberty and equality are legitimate concerns. That's a lot of normative judgment entering in, or at the very least it's a lot of positive judgments not elaborated on here. Either way, just be aware that this isn't just an exploration of political philosophy; it's an exploration of political philosophy according to her. Which is still valuable to listen to, I just think some people commit themselves to smallthink after having watched a Big Think video.

  52. Thank you for your online lectures! Tamar Gendler. I think these knowledge good enough to infuence people around the world.More Wonderful, if there be Vietnamese subtitles on your Yale open courses!

  53. The tragedy of the commons was already solved by Bart Simpson and his "Don't have a cow, man" theory.

  54. Bravo. Great lecture. This really is the big question of our time, isn't it? Is liberal democracy capable of surviving in the face of global catastrophes? What happens when the whole world becomes a "tragedy of the commons?" Unwavering respect for the rights of the individual will lead us all to ruin. We may have no choice but to embrace a future of "Duty" over "Liberty" … we are not ready in the slightest.

  55. Prisoners' dilemma doesn't really apply to complex interactions. You don't have to disarm completely. Especially with nuclear weapons, what if your policy was to spend 90% of your adversary's spending?

  56. How does one get unowned resources? Pre-Leviathan or Leviathan doesn't apply to current owners like indigenous people. Whatever you can grab. The worst theft of all.

  57. Excellent presentation making the subject easy accessible and comprehensible. Thank you. I enjoyed it enormously

  58. Is there any videos–anywhere!–that deals exculsively with the original intent of philosophy. I can't ever find anything that sticks just to idea of "loving" "Sophia," the female personification of Wisdom. The only thing I can find is Jung's more contemporary idea of "the Anima." I'd like to find something from the ancient philosophers that deals exclusively with exactly what it means to "love Sophia" because I think it has more to do with an esoteric description of an inner directed search. This political non-sense bores me, and I also think it's just off track of what the ancient philosophers were referring to. Somebody help!!

  59. The problem with many political philosophers is they ignore a fundamental question: does anyone have the right to rule?

  60. Not helping is not the same as harming, that example against utilitarianism is just wrong, its a false equivalency.

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